CIA Director Gina Haspel reportedly listened to the audio recording of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi’s last moments after President Donald Trump openly questioned whether the tape existed.
Turkish officials have, through multiple leaks to US and Turkish media, touted the existence of audio footage of Khashoggi’s killing since October 12.
An unnamed source told The Washington Post two weeks ago that the “lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered” the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
“You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” the source said. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”
But Turkey had not shared the footage with intelligence partners, prompting Trump to openly doubt its existence.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also failed to mention the audio recording during a highly-anticipated speech about Khashoggi’s killing on Tuesday.
Trump told reporters last Saturday: “So far, we’ve heard about it, but nobody has seen it,” adding that, to his knowledge, that included the FBI and the CIA.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Saudi Arabia and Turkey last week to discuss the two countries’ investigations into Khashoggi, also hadn’t heard the audio, Trump added.
He also said last Wednesday: “I’m not sure yet that it exists.”
A person familiar with the footage told The Washington Post on Thursday it was “compelling,” and could put more pressure on the Trump administration to hold Riyadh accountable for Khashoggi’s killing.
Trump on Tuesday described Khashoggi’s killing as “one of the worst in the history of cover-ups,” adding that “somebody really messed up” when conceiving of the plan. But the US president has repeatedly refused to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s death.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who now works at the Brooking Institution, told The Washington Post that Haspel’s hearing the audio “puts the ball firmly in Washington’s court.”
Riyadh admitted last Friday — 17 days after his disappearance — that Khashoggi died inside its consulate in Istanbul, but claimed it was the result of a fistfight during a rogue operation unknown to the Saudi leadership and intelligence services.
Riedel also said the fact that Haspel heard the audio could also compel Congress to ask Haspel to testify.
He told The Washington Post: “Not only will there be more pressure now from the media but Congress will say, ‘Gina, we would love to have you come visit and you can tell us exactly what you heard.'”